From Wall Street to Hollywood

With today's newspapers full of Wall Street scandals like ImClone, Enron and WorldCom, Hollywood-style "ripped-from-the-headlines" TV specials and feature films may not be far behind.

"Without a doubt this moment, this period of time will create an entire genre of films," said Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Audiences love to hate a bad guy — or gal — and these days the real world seems ripe with perfectly detestable greedy, corporate bigwigs who allegedly ignored the rules and stuck the little guy. Characters like ex-Enron CEO Ken Lay, Martha Stewart and WorldCom's former chief Bernie Ebbers could all be classic targets for Hollywood fodder, say experts.

"Hollywood loves a good villain," said Max Robbins, media and business columnist for TV Guide. "The stories of fat cats and how they've robbed their companies blind, that makes a pretty good villain."

America's frustration with slow investigations into potential wrongdoing, rather than swift gavel-pounding justice, also makes fertile ground for moviemakers.

"Americans need films to be made as a form of catharsis," Felling said from his Washington, D.C., office. "Real-world justice is not as neat and fair as movie justice."

But it's not just the scandals that make these stories a hot Hollywood commodity. The number of average investors suffering in the current economy makes audiences hungry for someone to blame.

"During the boom years, an unprecedented number of Americans invested in the stock market, and now a lot of people have been hit," said Robbins. "There might be some desire to see these people who really had unbridled greed, to see them get their comeuppance."

But there's a potential glitch in bringing, say "ImClone: The True Story," to TV. In theory, insider trading, ruined 401(k)s, secret deals, and shady accounting practices are all juicy stories. The real behind-the-scenes details, however, are extremely complex.

The trick to making successful films based on real events is to simplify complicated issues while still maintaining the larger truth, insiders say. And not everyone is optimistic about Hollywood's ability to do that.

"They'd have to find someone in Hollywood smart enough to figure it out," said Linda Stasi, an entertainment columnist for the New York Post. "And since it seems like none of them leave their houses or read anything besides scripts and never read a newspaper, that might be a difficult task."

But Felling argued that movies might actually help average people understand what's happened in these big business scandals.

"Hollywood would create a more sophisticated understanding of amoral business practices than the comic book version we're currently being fed," he said. "[We're getting] either comic book or far too technical versions."

Experts also point out direct interpretations of the current scandals are problematic for legal reasons, since so far no one has been convicted of any crimes.

If someone were to make Martha Stewart's story, said Eric Burns, a Fox News media commentator: "You'd want to make [the character] close enough to Martha, but the closer you get to her, the more legal trouble you get into. They will sue the hell out of you."

The ultimate above-the-rules millionaire came to the big screen in 1987's Wall Street, in which Michael Douglas played inside trader Gordon Gekko. But what might the new millennium's villains look like?

"We're moving to the John Malkovich CEO, duplicitous, smarmy and corrupt," suggested Felling. "If the headlines continue in this way regarding business corruption we're headed on a one-way street for Steve Buscemi as CEO and nobody wants that."

But what actress would take on the role of the domestic diva?

"Meryl Streep would be a good Martha Stewart," Robbins said. "You'd need an actress who'd bring a certain precision to the role."